Public Health (Tobacco) Amendment (E-Cigarettes) Bill 2015

26th May 2015

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [5.10 p.m.]: I make a brief contribution to debate on the Public Health (Tobacco) Amendment (E-cigarettes) Bill 2015. To my knowledge, the use of e-cigarettes is not widespread in my electorate and I hope it remains that way, especially in regard to their use by children. But as surely as night follows day—and as surely as the cigarette industry needs new customers—if we do not act early more and more young people will be drawn to this relatively new but potentially harmful product. Certainly since the Minister for Health introduced the legislation concern in my community about the spread of e-cigarettes, particularly among minors, has been sufficiently high to prompt a number of representations on this issue to my office, urging me to support restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes.

The bill is an important first step in achieving that aim but it does not go as far as some in the community, including the Heart Foundation, would like. They would like to see e-cigarettes regulated in the same way as tobacco cigarettes, including a ban on their use in areas where smoking is currently not allowed, such as on buses and trains, and at schools and hospitals. I note that this is effectively what is being proposed as an amendment to the legislation in the Legislative Council by the Opposition spokesperson, the Hon. Walt Secord. I believe there is merit in this argument.

As the Minister noted in her second reading speech, there is no conclusive evidence to say whether e-cigarettes help people to quit smoking and there is a lot we still do not know about e-cigarettes. Given this background, I believe we should take a conservative approach to the marketing and use of these products, and apply the same standards and regulations to e-cigarettes as we do to tobacco cigarettes. Although there may be some value in the use of these products by people trying to give up or moderate their cigarette-smoking habit, I do not believe e-cigarettes should be marketed to new consumers nor passed off as a safe alternative to tobacco products. As a society we have made great advances in recent years in winding back the prevalence of smoking—a proven cause of, and contributor to, a raft of major health problems.

A big part of this process has been dismantling the advertising-driven image of smoking as glamorous and desirable. It would seem counterproductive, therefore, to allow the liberal sale and use of a similar product that promotes the very same culture we have worked so hard to discredit. Certainly, we do not want to give children the impression that smoking of any kind is desirable. That is why this legislation is important, but banning the sale of the products to minors does not necessarily limit their exposure to them. We do not want people to be smoking e-cigarettes on the bus next to minors or at the table next to them at a cafe. We do not want young people to see the smoking of e-cigarettes as normal, harmless or a cool thing to do. The jury is out on the safety of e-cigarettes but the National Health and Medical Research Council is concerned enough about the possible health risks to indicate in a statement released in March this year that health authorities should:

… act to minimise harm until evidence of safety, quality and efficacy can be produced.

It also notes that there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether e-cigarettes can help smokers to quit. Clearly, we must be cautious about the use of these products. The Minister has indicated that she will bring forward further legislation to regulate the use and sale of e-cigarettes if it is needed. This is appropriate, particularly if we see substantial recruitment to the product as minors cross the threshold to adulthood. This is sensible and proportionate legislation that addresses the potential health risks of this relatively new product. While there is some concern that the legislation could have gone further, I acknowledge this bill as a very important step. I acknowledge also the Minister and her staff for their work in this area. I support the legislation and I thank the Minister, who is in the Chamber, for bringing this matter forward.

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